Estate planning guide for new parents in California

Your bundle of joy has arrived, and now you’re trying to figure out the new schedule and when you’ll ever get any sleep again.  Also, in the back of your mind, you know that you should probably “do something” about your will or figure out what will happen should you pass away.  Now there’s another life to worry about!  But time passes, you don’t know what to do or how to do it, or who to ask, so it gets placed on the back burner.  Suddenly Junior is 14 and you’re dealing with the death of your parents.  What are the things you wish you had known when Junior was a baby?

  1. The time to do your estate planning is NOW.  Should both parents be in an accident and hospitalized for a period of time (or, obviously, if you die), Junior could end up in the court system and/or in foster care.  If you do not choose who will care for your child if you cannot, then the court will decide.
  2. Having the court decide who will be the guardian for your child is NOT what you want.  When the court decides, the court does not have the time or ability to distinguish between your crazy Aunt Rose, who you have not seen in years, who lives in a small town in Arkansas (not that there’s anything wrong with Arkansas) and can’t seem to keep a steady job, and your sister and brother-in-law who are close to the entire family and would be the perfect guardians.  If YOU don’t decide who is going to raise your child, a stranger will.
  3. Not being able to decide on who your guardian will be it not a good excuse for delaying your estate plan.  A good estate planner will help you decide.  In addition, while you may not have decided definitively, you have probably narrowed the field among the options.  Remember, the court won’t know who you have ruled out.  I can help you to know what to think about, what to consider in making the decision, how to make the decision, and how and when to change it.

Don’t wait.  Once you have a child, it’s time to put your affairs in order.  You love your family and you love your child: it’s them, not you, who will suffer if you neglect these very important tasks.

Talking to your parents about estate planning: how to do it and when to do it

Many of my clients ask me how they can talk to their parents about estate planning. Either they are doing their estate plan and want to make sure their parents are properly protected, or they are learning about the importance of estate planning, and just want to make sure their parents know what they need to do. I’ve talked about this before in a similar article, but I wanted to provide a new perspective to go along with the older article.

First, you are coming from a place of concern rather than a place of greed (“Hey Mom, what am I going to get?!”). You know that they don’t want to put themselves into a situation where they are not taken care of in the way that they want to (for example, if they don’t have proper powers of attorney in place). You know that they want to do all they can to help you and your siblings and/or their grandchildren. You know that they are probably concerned about leaving a legacy to their family and to the world. While we don’t think about this much when we are younger, nearly all older adults worry about leaving a legacy. Part of my estate plans with all of my clients, from Palo Alto to San Rafael, includes a place to record not just where the finances go, but how the important personal items are distributed, passing down important genealogical, medical, military and personal histories. You know your parents want to do this, so you want to make sure they know how.

Second, parents will always be parents to their children, so you can bet that they want to continue to take care of you as much as possible, even after they are gone. The probate process, which is what will happen if an estate (in California is worth $150,000 – not taking debt into account) passes without a living trust, is a burden on you and your siblings. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and adds an incredible additional burden to you at their death, which will be hard enough as it is. By encouraging your parents to create an estate plan, you are helping them to continue to take care of you after they are gone, which is what all parents want.

A great time to discuss estate planning is (1) now, since you’ve read this article (send them the link! Isn’t your mom always sending you newspaper clippings? I know mine is…), or (2) when you do your own estate plan. Talking about your experience can be a great conversation starter.

It doesn’t have to be a tough conversation, but it is a necessary one.

Talking to your parents about estate planning: how to do it and when to do it

Many of my clients ask me how they can talk to their parents about estate planning. Either they are doing their estate plan and want to make sure their parents are properly protected, or they are learning about the importance of estate planning, and just want to make sure their parents know what they need to do. I’ve talked about this before in a similar article, but I wanted to provide a new perspective to go along with the older article.

First, you are coming from a place of concern rather than a place of greed (“Hey Mom, what am I going to get?!”). You know that they don’t want to put themselves into a situation where they are not taken care of in the way that they want to (for example, if they don’t have proper powers of attorney in place). You know that they want to do all they can to help you and your siblings and/or their grandchildren. You know that they are probably concerned about leaving a legacy to their family and to the world. While we don’t think about this much when we are younger, nearly all older adults worry about leaving a legacy. Part of my estate plans with all of my clients, from San Jose to Novato, includes a place to record not just where the finances go, but how the important personal items are distributed, passing down important genealogical, medical, military and personal histories. You know your parents want to do this, so you want to make sure they know how.

Second, parents will always be parents to their children, so you can bet that they want to continue to take care of you as much as possible, even after they are gone. The probate process, which is what will happen if an estate (in California is worth $100,000 – not taking debt into account) passes without a living trust, is a burden on you and your siblings. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and adds an incredible additional burden to you at their death, which will be hard enough as it is. By encouraging your parents to create an estate plan, you are helping them to continue to take care of you after they are gone, which is what all parents want.

A great time to discuss estate planning is (1) now, since you’ve read this article (send them the link! Isn’t your mom always sending you newspaper clippings? I know mine is…), or (2) when you do your own estate plan. Talking about your experience can be a great conversation starter.

It doesn’t have to be a tough conversation, but it is a necessary one.

What is a conservatorship? Part One: When and why you may want or need to get one

It seems to me that recently I have been inundated with questions about conservatorship in California.  In the Bay Area, much like the rest of California and the United States, there are a large number of aging Americans, including the Baby Boomers, who are getting into their 60s.  But most of these inquiries have a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what a conservator is, when it is possible or appropriate to get, why it’s necessary, who can file for one, and what the general process is.

So, let’s start with the basics.  As we age, many of us will gradually slow down. Perhaps this starts with using the stairs in our house less frequently, and maybe progresses to driving less at night.  Our muscles become weaker, our senses a little duller.  We may get a hearing aid for when we’re out in public.  These are all normal ‘symptoms’ of aging.  As we continue to get older, some of us may have cognitive, or mental, decline as well.  This is more than just forgetting where you’ve put your glasses or keys.

At some point, for some of us as we age, we become no longer able to take care of our own finances and our own health.  We can’t pay the bills, remember to take our medication, or even maintain basic hygiene.  Adult children can spot these issues when they see unpaid or overdue bills lying around the house.  Perhaps a caregiver is noticing and reporting the concerns about hygiene or unusual behavior.  Maybe you are talking to an assisted living community about moving your parent in, and they are concerned about your parent’s mental capacity.

Based on your concerns, you may wish to be the one who makes the financial and medical decisions on behalf of your parent.  It may, in fact, be necessary because your loved one has signs of dementia, paranoia or hostility that make them completely unable to care for their own needs.

If you and your loved one have acted in advance, then you may have a power of attorney that will allow you to make the necessary decisions.  In California, there are two kinds of powers of attorney: one for finances and one for medical care.  An individual who signs a power of attorney must be competent to do so, so if you are in a situation where your loved ones is already mentally compromised, or refuses to cooperate to sign one, then a power of attorney is not an option for you.

This is another reason why advance planning is so critical.  If you wait too long and are unable to get your loved one to sign a power of attorney, then you will need to go through the court process of a conservatorship to obtain decision-making power over your loved one’s finances, medical decisions, or both.  Next time we will talk about the conservatorship process.